Sunday, December 16, 2018

Keeping Optimism in Check.

Recently I decided to start buying parts to restore Rosetta, my abused Washburn A20. I immediately checked and was amazed at the absolute wealth of parts coming in from East Asia. After a few weeks of research, reading tons of reviews and deep self debating over whether I should really buy all these unbranded, exceedingly cheap parts I started biting the bullet one part (or set) at a time.

The most crucial part of any guitar build would be, in my opinion, the pickups. My tonal goal is to get as close to a Les Paul(ish) tone as I can while keeping a vintage look, with a secondary goal of being able to split them with push/pull pots, like a stock A20. Ideally I wanted either chrome covered pickups or a cream on cream DiMarzio style, again like the stock A20 pickups, albeit without the DiMarzio price. However finding humbuckers that fit all these criteria proved difficult to find at anything below a big name brand price.

After reading a lot of positive reviews I settled on a set of chrome covered pickups that were only $12 shipped. I knew they were single conductor, but if the over one hundred reviews were to be believed I figured I couldn't go wrong. Sure, these were Chinese made, but they were coming directly from Amazon, how bad could it get? One word: very!

Upon arrival they were packed facing each other and placed in two bags, so I figured they were packaged well and they should be totally fine. I was wrong, way wrong. They were packaged well, but that doesn't mean they weren't dropped in the factory and kicked around the floor a little prior to being packaged.

I wasn't happy with the damage, but I figured at the very worst I could relic them and make them look old and well used, so all hope was not completely lost. In my optimistic haste I asked Amazon if I could get a partial refund and keep them, as I still had hopes for them, which sealed my fate of ownership. The only guitar that I could test these in was my Ibanez RG, being the only guitar that was fully ready and had a humbucker neck route. After installing them I plugged into my Fender Mustang Mini and everything sounded really nice. The tone was full and bright, but it wasn't until I had the chance to plug into my half stack and crank the volume that things started to fall apart and fall apart quickly.

Before with stock Pickups
After with No Brand Pickups

The listing said the neck would be 9k resistance and the bridge would be 16k, but when I checked them the neck was 13k and the bridge was flip-flopping between 12.5-12.8k, I decided to install them anyways. Almost immediately there was feedback from the pickups. All but the outside of the covers were covered in wax. How could these things NOT be potted!? So now not only are they dented, they're microphonic and trying to dial in anything that wasn't complete and utter mud was impossible. I guess that's the difference between a single 6.5" speaker and a closed-back cabinet with four 12" speakers.

After removing these pickups from the RG I noticed the cover for the bridge pickup was rattling, I'm assuming it had broken loose in the fall that caused the damage on the front. After carefully prying the cover off I noticed absolutely no wax whatsoever between the cover and the pickup itself. However, I also noticed the pickup was actually black and cream, which isn't my ideal color combo but it's better than the black on black I assumed it would be. The fun discoveries didn't stop there as I could clearly see where the two coils were connected, giving me hope I could split that, extend the wire and make this pickup a four conductor pickup, maybe. I later took the cover off the neck pickup and found essentially the same, no wax whatsoever to be found anywhere within the cover or on the faces of the bobbins, but this time the pickup was black and white. Not exactly what I wanted, but still not boring black on black.


There are so many things I can do with these pickups, so maybe my optimism wasn't completely wrong, but the initial feeling about these picks was that I had been screwed over hard. Maybe I can split the coils and make it a four conductor like I wanted. Maybe these pickups are a lot better open coil or properly potted with the covers back on them. Maybe! I guess it's just time for me to see what I can make of them and how they sound without the covers on them. As soon as I have a chance to check them out and if I ever put the covers back on them properly I'll make sure to add an update to this, but for now I truly wished I had sent them back and gotten a refund. Then again, maybe these things could be the best pickups $6 (after partial refund) have ever paid for. Oops, there goes my optimism again!

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